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4 Reasons someone should get Helen Zille away from Twitter

Last year I wrote a piece for Memeburn about ways I felt Helen Zille was using Twitter well. She was controversial even back then, but I liked her for four reasons:

  • She was responsive
  • She was unscripted
  • She was active and
  • She had a sense of humour

Overall, I loved the fact that she was both accessible and real. No PR gloss: you got Helen pretty much undiluted. I didn’t mind the sarcasm; somehow it lent her a certain appealing authenticity. A year later and Helen Zille is still all of those things, but something has changed. From being appealingly frank, she’s become rude and arrogant, an object lesson in the dangers of Twitter — and why sometimes it’s better just to turn the phone off.

In an effort to maintain symmetry with my previous article, here are four ways in which, based on the evidence to hand, she’s losing the plot:

1. She was responsive. Now she feeds the trolls
The first rule of being online: don’t feed the trolls. Political leaders will always attract the worst elements of the digital demimonde, but that does not mean that they should pay attention to them. Why is the leader of the opposition responding to a cretin with all of seven followers? Why is she dignifying this kind of abuse with a response?

This kind of engagement does nothing for democracy; it’s a freak show that plays to the lowest common denominator.

2. She’s unscripted, to the point where Twitter is a regular supplier of anti-DA ammunition.
Whether it’s the “professional black” debacle or the “refugee” fracas, almost all the controversy she generates now comes from tweets. Her adversaries watch her every move to find an excuse to lambaste her, and she hands the opportunity to them on a platter, neatly packaged in the form of a ready –made 140 character soundbite.

3. She’s way too active now
I don’t know how she responds to so many tweets. She appears to be using Twitter as her primary channel to the electorate, and that’s fine – but given the sarcasm and the insults (see point 4) and the feeding of the trolls (see above) this is becoming a problem. As Caryn Gootkin notes, “In Twitter veritas, to corrupt a well-known Latin maxim. #helenzille. She tweets what she truly thinks. Which is scary.”

4. She had a sense of humour; now she lobs insults
What’s clear from following Zille’s tweets is that she has a heck of a temper. How’s the response to this tweet from a friend of mine, an advocate who was involved in DA politics in the past, and speaks from a position of knowledge:

Wombat. Yes, Zille turns to the fauna of Australia to insult people who raise valid points. And that’s just one example of many. Her most annoying Twitter habit: the use of hashtags to emphasise the point; her favourite is #geddit. “Come with good arguments I’ll take the point,” is her response. “Won’t patronise ppl by kow-towing to idiocy or avoiding elephants in t room.” I’m not entirely sure what constitutes a good argument in 140 characters or less, but kow-towing to idiocy in her language is common courtesy in another.

To be fair, I do see her engaging in constructive ways with her critics on Twitter. I like the fact that she’s willing to do things differently, like being the first political leader to be interviewed on Twitter, by Eusebius McKaiser. But the positive is being eroded by the way she conducts herself online. As I’ve written elsewhere, the DA is making a serious tactical error in alienating a key growth market. The insults might endear her to people who love her anyway, but they do nothing to appeal to voters disenchanted with the ANC but hesitant about going over to the DA(rk) side.

What’s truly scary is that Zille says she’s acting with restraint (!) and if she said what was really on her mind, even she would be embarrassed.

I discussed this issue with a friend who conducted some training for the DA in Ekurhuleni last year. The number one point that all the councilors agreed on? Be humble. I don’t know about you, but I expect better behaviour from my leaders, especially those who are more than willing to point out the faults in others. Somebody should wrestle Helen to the ground and confiscate her phone before she does any more damage.

Image courtesy of the Democratic Alliance

Author | Sarah Britten

Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten is the strategic planning director at Labstore South Africa. Her relationship status is hidden. More
  • Anonymous

    hellen zille is a troll

  • Percym

    very poorly written

  • Ballbag

    I don’t share your opinion. At least she’s accessible. Unfollow her if you have a problem, and go and vote ANC if you’re so against her.

  • Somepeople

    Now that, is trolling. If an article breaks down a users Twitter activity with legitimate reasons as to why said user has become a troll, is that article then defined as poorly written? No.  

  • WOW!!  What a well written article.  Yes I am the person that
    was blocked off Helen Zille’s Twitter account. 
    The comment sited in the article was aimed at LannersPub:

    Helen Zille:   “Believe me, very restrained compared to what I feel tempted to say #paragonofvirtue”

    This Tweet she sent erroneously to Ettiene Beneke after he
    asked me why my Tweets got “aggressive lately.”

    Her previous Tweets to me includes hash tags such as :   #getit #getreal and “Duh”

    However, she should STAY ON Twitter.  It is quite an eye opener to the readers of
    her Tweets what she is really about. 
    Under her polished image lurks a power hungry person who wants to win votes at all costs.  I am no factor in this saga.

    Update to Grabouw where my altercation with Helen Zille started:

    The Presidency in the form of Trevor Manuel haslaunched an education task force to get the warring parties talking to each othe in Grabouw.

    This morning another protest was held near Riviersonder-end on the N2

    Sandra Dickson

  • tshego

     i see no fault with Zille

  • Evbowers2

    Thanku for voicing in such a factual manner how the tweets of Helen Zille has gone from fab to sad over the last while.

    I follow a certain “sketcher of caricatures” and decided, as is my right to do, to retweeted his “refugee” offering recently.
    Imagine my sprize when Helen Zille tweeted me back!
    what would hav been a pleasant event to tell ppl bout hw the DA cares, instead wreaked of sarcasm and character defamation!

    She tweeted to me: “@EvBowers2 Twisting and manipulating again to give it a racial twist #sicko.”

    I’m not sure if she was referring to me when she hashtagged her comment with “sicko”, or if she was calling the “caricature sketcher ” a sicko. Either way, I take offence, her comment screams “bitchy, immature, I’ll mannered, down right rude”. How nasty she must be, personally, deep down in her core?!

    It’s my right to retweet to my followers what I find interesting, funny, enlightening, intelligent or just plain need to know just because! I dnt attach emotion or opinion to my tweets and Helen Zille exposed her true unprofessional nature in hers. It leaves an acrid taste in my mouth and certainly makes me rethink my stand point on the DA, since she is the face of, and speaks for them.

    I agree wholeheartedly with most of the words in the above article (kudo’s to you Sarah, thanku) and empathise with the masses who have been offended by Helen Zille.

    I don’t think she should be kikd off twitter, it is twitter that’s the rope with which she hung herself in my book! Give her as much rope as she wants :), maybe others will draw the same conclusion!

  • While Malema Pushing Nationalization of Mines that think will kill SA Economy, Helen Zille is killing Black support to DA. She will notice later when ANC is campaigning with this in the coming elections.   

  • Shelly

    This article amazes me, and so do the comments below.  How about you all vote ANC and allow them to turn the extremely successful cape town into the wreck jhb and pta are today.  As she says she replies to 1 in 50 or more of the insults thrown at her, the completely pathetic and uneducated comments, like when she is accused of not fixings ANC’s mess when they were the ones trusted with that part of the country.  I cannot believe she is not more vulgar, I believe her when she says her comments are restrained as I could think of far wose things I would have replied to the aweful comments she receives on a daily basis.  Perhaps we should judge her on the way she has run the city VS what the opposition had done with their cities rather than hating her for showing her true irritation from time to time. 

  • Seriously, don’t see the point of the article, trying to leverage a name for hits? Not a DA fan but it’s rare (or rather unheard of) for a politician or premier  to be as accessible as @helenzille:disqus.

    The fact that the tweets are not censored or filtered through a spokesperson is a plus and more human than a robotic canned response. Good luck getting an answer on e.g. potholes via Twitter in another region of the country.  

    It will be a sad day for the Western Cape should she pay attention to the traffic grabbing title of this ‘article’. 

  • To the author of this narrow minded article: Try living outside the box, it is way more fun! :) #tweetpolice

  • I might get called a wombat

    I think you may have mised the point  with the article. It is not meant to be a DA bashing exercise but a observation as to how all the good work can be undone by a careless comment.

    If she responds to constructive suggestions and observations with name calling then frankly how does she expect to win support beyond the Cape Town Metro? If she alienates the possible voters in jhb or pta how can she bring any change?

    Sure she gets some horrific tweets but other peoples rudeness is not an excuse to respond in kind.    

  • Enlightened

    She runs the city of Cape Town “perfectly” in favour of the elite at the expense of majority of citizens of the Cape with the continual flaring up of gang battles, the ever increasing drug trade, the further impoverishment of 85% of ppl. So what do you mean when you say she has done better than the ANC. Better in favor of who?

  • Is this not a case of she’s just having the wrong person(s) manage her Social Media? Who’s managing this for her? Anyone know?

  • Mahendran Govender

    I Disagree, it’s great actually being able to write to, and get responses from, the leader of the party governing your area. Not someone else, not someone managing their PR, but the actual leader. 

    The fact that she gets annoyed by people who misquote, or focus on words rather than meaning, is human. Again, it is great that it is actually her who posts, and not some PR rep. 

    This article is an opinion, and the author is entitled to it, but that’s about where it ends. 

  • Peterwomersley

    I think Helen Zille rocks but then she is speaking to the converted . She may convert more if she was a little more vulnerable. ie in the way she responded to the issue of “refugee”Regret gunuine offense if any Heres my intention etc etc She is becoming a little more like Tony Leon not a winning formula

  • Anonymous

    This is one of the most silly articles i have ever read in connection with anybody’s social networking activity. Every single point made is out of context and frankly it’s fishing for trolls to start controversy and add fuel to a silly fire started by trolls in the first place. 
    Sarah you had a perfect platform to be objective and separate the issues  -FAIL-Journalistic hogwash like this is the ammunition given to the state to implement  laws to censor the press. Politics is not marketing in case you did not notice. The best thing i can say about it is this is absolutely unprofessional and says a lot about your personal integrity as a journalist.
    Have a great day!!!

  • its hard to admit it, but you are right in this regard. She must stop taking so many tweets from trolls whom irritate her with their rudeness and stupidity, because she is reacting , and thats what they want.

  • Zenithdolphin

    who gives a fig,really…the issues we face are far more cpmlpex than anyone’s perception of a politicains twittering…though i must say CT is at least a beacon in this country..

  • Mzanon

    You are failing to get the point. Following and unfollowing is trivial and petty compared to the core of what she represents and intends to do with her party. The article is more advisory than it is attacking. The DA has ambitions to grow beyond Twitter, and beyond the Cape. Unfollowing wont take away the armour she gives in an increasingly unrestrained manner.

  • This is also the point to think on which that definitely any political leader has not that much of free time to tweet whole day or to spend on any social network. But there is someone behind all this who manages her activities so we can not truly blame on any specific person as each person think differently and they reply as per their thinking so whatever she tweets might not be her own tweets.

  • Her unrestrained and accessible presence on a realtime platform means change is possible a lot sooner! All this backwards and forwards of the old medium via articles published or letters sent etc, meant slow progress and perhaps swept under the carpet forgotten issues. Who knows what Helen Zille is dealing with? Take a walk in her shoes – the corruption the goes on in government, the blind sheep who support the fat cats and get nothing in return, and here she is doing a stellar job but not getting their vote, instead racial criticism instead? She’s real and wasting no time with your usual bureaucratic humble diplomacy. Has it worked to streamline systems in place already to solve major issues our country faces? NO. So let her have her free reign and watch her grow more and more into the leader that she should be, of this country.

  • “Trolls” referred to are people with the right to be heard, and this medium gives them this right which they have most probably been deprived of for whatever reason; so her responding to them gives them the sense of being heard. It may look like fuel to a fire to some but to me it means that she is not discriminating in terms of who she is responding to and how; she is responding. And not with some gloss-coated cover of smiles and false promises but with the character we know her to be; albeit bitter or sweet. This is far better than pretending in favour of receiving votes. It means we are seeing what we are getting as it is, no bullshit. Whether you’re influential or not, it doesn’t matter either way to her, but you count as a citizen of SA to get her response. And really if you’re giving her BS you deserve it straight back.

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